Saturday, January 14, 2017

2016 Movies in Review: The "A" List with Vitamin "B+"

Well, this is it.

The final part of my Year in Review of the films of 2016.  It was a good year, not a great year.  Lots of above average movies, but nothing that really stands head and shoulders above the rest—at least not in the bunches of flicks I viewed.

I grade movies based on my own personal expectations for each film and each film has it’s own expected qualities when I sit down to watch.  If I’m watching Oscar bait then I expect that kind of quality; and, if I’m watching straight-to-video, low budget fare, then I expect less in the way of quality.  There is no scale for all films, each gets it’s own measure from me.

This year we divided the list up into three posts so that each section was more manageable.

is a harrowing and uplifting tale of survival.  Based loosely on stories of kidnapping victims like Jaycee Dugard, the movie begins over five years into the captivity of Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and reveals the tiny world she has created for her child, Jack (Jacob Tremblay).  It also shows the lengths she has gone to keep their captor from interacting with Jack.  Their escape and how they deal with the outside world is also detailed, but mainly it’s a story of coping with the horror of psycho-sexual predator and the literal non-existence of living in a windowless prison room.  It truly was a powerhouse performance by Larson.
Grade: A

is a kind of throw-back film to the ‘70s about a couple of brothers who decide to use the bank’s own money to pay back the debt they owe in order to get back the family farm.  What follows is a film that is one part “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and one part “No Country for Old Men”.  A great story played perfectly by Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham and Ben Foster.
Grade: A

is a story of being true.  Susan, an unhappy art gallery owner is sent a manuscript from her ex-husband along with an invitation to dinner in the near future.  While reading the manuscript, Susan flashes back on her brief life with the author and how their story ended.  Amy Adams is just right in her most unlikable role, but the story within the story may be the more compelling of the two.
Grade: A

is another tale of survival, but also revenge.  A lost and forgotten trapper thought dead struggles to heal, survive and hunt down his enemy at all costs.  It’s about a character who has lost the only thing of value that he had in life and the lengths to which he will go to live long enough to see the cause of his misery punished.  Epic stuff—and better upon a second viewing.
Grade: A

is another example of why John Goodman deserves an Oscar.  He simply is the characters he portrays.  When Michelle awakes to find herself chained up in a small room after a car accident, she assumes the worst. What follows is an excellent paranoid, dramatic and suspensful film that leaves one wondering… until the big revelation(s).  And then things get even weirder.
Grade: A

begins as a historical drama set in 17th century New England and then the foreboding fear and isolation creep in and, slowly, over time, it becomes a first-rate horror film by the time the credits roll.  A fine and subtle effort that goes to show that fanatical religious people may seem a little crazy, but that doesn’t mean the devil isn’t out to get them.
Grade: A

is based on the novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS by John Wyndham and tales the story of a group of children all born on the same day who were all conceived on the same day, a day when everyone in the village lost consciousness at the same time.  These children are all the same in looks and actions and seem to act with a powerful hive mind.  It tells of how the villagers come to live with these inhuman children and how they plan to stop them.  A classic that holds up pretty well considering it's vintage.
Grade: A-

is a chilling, dark thriller that takes a small time punk band on a fledgling tour into a backwoods Oregon roadhouse where they descend into a white supremacist community’s control.  Anton Yelchin is excellent in one of his final roles.  Imogen Poots is good as a local woman caught in the middle, and Patrick Stewart is strong in his approach to his role as the cold-hearted leader of the supremacists.
Grade: A-

doesn’t really resolve all of it’s issues and that’s really it’s only fault as it is one entertaining film.  Captain America doesn’t get the amount of focus he should, but this film should probaby have been called “Avengers: Civil War” as it features the biggest cast of any Marvel movie to date.  Iron Man and Cap disagree over the government control and the divide splits the Avengers team down political lines and “civil war” ensues.   A great action flick that finds a way to incorporate it’s massive cast while moving the Marvel story forward powerfully.
Grade: A-

is the sad tale of a young artist who was committed to an insane asylum where she was held for the last half of her life while her family took her money and put her art in storage in an attic for forty years.  In her early life, she painted in Provincetown, Massachusetts for about nine years and had a life-partner named Frannie.  Those paintings were rediscovered by her great-niece and were shown in a museum for the first time in 2015.
Grade: A-

doesn’t sound like a scary thing, but once you see the film, you will think differently.  Set in the Hollywood hills, this ominous story unfolds over the course of a dinner party at which a man revisits his former house where his ex-wife and her new husband have returned to live.  The ex-husband comes to believe something is very wrong, but are his feelings true or is something from his past there altering his perceptions.  It’s a subtle and smart piece of filmmaking as it draws the viewer in and reveals itself.
Grade: A-

is a look at the history of mega-record store Tower Records from its rise to power in THE 60s through it’s collapse in 2006 as the record industry failed to keep up with the digital age. What makes the movie click is the people and how they are all great characters—no creeps, no huge egos, no assholes—just good people out to have fun doing what they loved in the music industry.
Grade: A-

is a romantic body horror film.  Yes, I typed that.  Lou Taylor Pucci plays an American on vacation in Italy who meets and falls for a local girl named Louise.  Soon, Pucci has found work on a local farm and has decided to stay in order to pursue a life with Louise.  Turns out Louise isn’t as interested in him, turns out she is something other than human, something more than human?  Great performances and a truly singular story make this one a treat to watch, while it gets freaky.
Grade: A-

is a doc that takes one through the history of The National Lampoon magazine and it’s long, strange, drug and alcohol-fueled and varied history.  Both hilarious and tragic, it’s mostly an entertaining informational with some killer backstory.
Grade: A-

is the most complete release of Francis Ford Coppola’s two part Godfather film set, which comes in at 423 minutes.  In January of last year, HBO aired this unique cut of the film(s) and I took it as my opportunity to finally watch these two gangster classics for the first time.  Fine filmmaking and acting all around.  Iconic lines and powerful performances, however, didn’t quite deliver on the great expectations I had for this one—or should I say two?
Grade: B+

is the story of David, who lives in a society where single people have a short time to find a mate, or else they are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the wild.  The black comedy pokes holes in societal standards, while embracing the idea of love.  Colin Farrel and Rachel Weisz head up the cast.
Grade: B+

is a real killer of a thriller picture about three young thieves who get trapped inside a blind man’s vault-like house.  There, they discover the old blind man is much more than he appears.  They must run a gauntlet of terrors to escape his clutches and live, let alone attempt to collect their jackpot.  Jane Levy brings the proper depth to her role and Stephen Lang does the same with his.
Grade: B+

takes what was built in MAN OF STEEL and extrapolates what would happen if Batman saw his city getting torn apart like day-old bread by aliens with god-like powers.  He kind of looses his shit.  And so you take a manipulative Lex Luthor and you have the keys for a fine showdown.  But, it’s a shame when the versus finally happens that it isn’t handled smarter.  It’s as if these two intellectual giants checked their brains at the door.  Also, remove all the team building right in the middle of the true action of the film and it could’ve even made the “A” grade.  As it is Affleck makes a great mature Batman—still not the Sherlock Holmes ninja he should be, but… anyway.
Grade: B+

is the original Holiday Horror film and one of the earliest of all slasher films (1974).  It follows a group of sorority sisters who keep getting threatening calls while being stalked and murdered.  Creepy, funny and less gore oriented than dread-centric, it holds up well to this day.  Margot Kidder shines as the sassiest sorority sister--so much so I was disappointed, again, that she didn't make it to the end of the film.  Still, it came off even better than my child-self remembered it.
Grade: B+

is that rare film featuring Paul Newman as an outlaw latino in the old west.  It’s also another Western adaptation of a Kurosawa film (RASHOMON).  A preacher (young Bill Shatner), a con artist and a prostpector are at a deserted train station discussing the recent trial of Newman’s character, Juan Carrasco for the murder of a man and the rape of his wife.  Different perspectives bring new questions and the screenplay chews the scenery in the viewer’s mind, bluring the lines of the crimes and the sentence.
Grade: B+

tells the tale of the gathering of the intelligence that allowed the Rebel Alliance to destroy the Death Star, and let me tell you, I've got a bad feeling about this.  It is a darker, more mature take on the Star Wars universe that reveals a more grim resolve.  And, frankly, it’s a little too grim for Star Wars.  Sure the ending brings hope, but you can’t let those glory hounds in A NEW HOPE have all the fun.  Also, an aside about the digital characters… if you’re going to use them, then at least light them better—so as to obscure the fact that the tech is still lacking in this department.  Regardless of my qualms, it is still a fine film closer to Empire than any of the other SW films come.
Grade: B+

deals with human frailty in many of its forms and the horrors of the child molestation in the church.  Brendan Gleeson (Ireland's John Goodman) is Father James, a good priest faced with the troubling behavior of a member of his parish and the threat that this member will kill James because it would be worse for the Catholic Church than killing a bad priest.  What follows is a week of Father James dealing with all of his Earthly concerns.  A superb performance by Gleeson, as usual.
Grade: B+

is a collection of audio recordings made by Marlon Brando throughout his life strung together with film clips and stills of those same periods in a sort of montage/essay about his troubled life—his struggles with acting, his qualms with social justice, dealing with the death of his son, etc.  A very insightful piece of film that reveals the man.
Grade: B+

is a tale that probably didn’t need retelling as the ’67 version speaks for the material so well, however, Favreau’s take on it is a beautiful and worthy one.  Great voices (John Goodman for one) bring the jungle creatures to life and the young actor Neel Sethi brings a child's innocence and wonder and confidence to the role of Mowgli.
Grade: B+

is one of the more well drawn origin stories told in the Marvel cinematic universe, along side IRON MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA: The First Avenger.  Benedict Cumberbatch plays the role of ruined surgeon seeking a new path in life who discovers the world of the supernatural.  What the film doesn’t do, unfortunately, is effectively portray the visual STRANGENESS of the worlds Stephen Strange occupies.  If they had been able to do that, the movie could well have jumped a grade.
Grade: B+

follows a lone woman’s descent into madness when she is left in charge of an empty New York City mansion.  Lauren Ashley Carter is very good as the woman who, at first, seems a competent caretaker.  Because of the setting and how little is known of this young woman, however, it is hard to say what vexes her.  And that may be the most disturbing part of this small film—the not knowing.
Grade: B+

takes a seemingly wonderful situation—a couple on their honeymoon in a rustic cabin—and turns it into a nightmare.  Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway are excellent as the honeymooners who find their lives unravel.  One night, the wife goes missing and the husband finds her naked and confused in the woods.  She thinks she was sleepwalking, but as time goes on it appears something else is afoot.  
Grade: B+

nearly garnered an “A-“, but I can’t quite get there on this one.  Maybe I’m being stingy as I expect much of my Trek films.  It begins with Kirk having doubts about continuing on as a Captain—about possibly pursuing a higher rank and settling down.  All this exploring, it seems, has taken a toll on James.  Needless to say this mission calls and great action is had and revelations are made and ships are destroyed.  It should also be noted that, the original, true Spock dies in a tribute.
Grade: B+

is probably the most faithful take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ape-man in decades.  John Clayton II, Lord Greystoke is living in London with his wife, Jane Porter, after having left Africa long behind, when he is called upon to look into developments in the Congo.  He agrees to go back when he hears of rumors that the Belgians are enslaving the Congolese.  There, John soon reverts back to the Tarzan who grew up there and we are in more familiar ape-man territory.
Grade: B+

is one that I was inspired to revisit after the death of Bowie last year.  In this vampire flick, Bowie is the Renfield to Catherine Deneuve’s immortal vampire who believes he will live forever.  But Bowie’s character ages rapidly once Deneuve’s vamp vamps for a new companion played by Susan Sarandon.  While the story isn’t great, it is approached with a strong flair by Tony Scott.
Grade: B+

is an autistic badass who could probably put up a good fight against Ben Affleck’s Batman.  He is also a math savant who has more interest in numbers than people who works for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations.  But he finds himself being hunted when he looks into the books of a robotics company and puts his guns and ammo to good use and the body count rises.
Grade: B+

takes alien contact films down the path of thoughtful intelligence.  It’s big-brained language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is able to breach the language barrier, which both solves a problem and presents a new one.  It becomes a more personal story about the choices one makes and the value of life lived after that.
Grade: B+

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